This is the blog of journalist, Lonely Planet author and photographer Stuart Butler. It features news and travel updates from the regions in which Stuart works, including northeast Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan), Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Travel to Sudan

This is a couple of months old but this is a link to two pieces I wrote recently about South Sudan. The first focuses on the background of South Sudan and the second on actually visiting the region. I have also pasted the second one up below. Independence will take place on July 9th so if you want to be there for it start getting organised now. i'll be on a job in Kenya at the time and am hoping to have time to go there for it myself.

Link to background on South Sudan -

Link to tips for visiting South Sudan -

Visting South Sudan

The votes have been cast, the name of the nation decided upon, a national anthem composed (via an X Factor-style competition no less), a flag designed and, on 9 July 2011, South Sudan will officially come into being.
The road to independence for the world’s newest nation has been long and hard. Sudan, Africa’s largest country, is an ethnic jigsaw comprising hundreds of tribes and languages; broadly these can be divided into a black African south and an Arab Islamic north. Southerners have always complained of discrimination at the hands of northerners and it was partly due to this discrimination that for 40 of the past 50 years Sudan has been at war with itself, a war that left around two million dead. But with the hammering out of a peace agreement, the people of South Sudan went to the polls for a referendum on whether the country should stay whole or split in two. In January this year, they voted overwhelmingly for independence from north Sudan.
It’s not every day that a new country is born. So if you’re wanting to head to South Sudan for the celebrations, Juba, the capital of the new country and centre of the independence celebrations, will be the place to be. Though we must stress that travel to Sudan can be a dangerous affair, so any visitor needs to be fully prepared and keep up with the latest travel advisories.

How to get there

Perhaps unsurprisingly, visiting South Sudan isn’t that straightforward. To start with the visa situation is quite complicated. A standard Sudanese visa is currently required for anyone visiting either north or South Sudan and these are not easy to get (use a local tour operator to help you). However, if you’re travelling straight to South Sudan (and only South Sudan) from Uganda or Kenya then you don’t need a Sudanese visa but can instead make do with a GoSS (Government of South Sudan) permit. These are issued without fuss in Nairobi (Kenya) and Kampala (Uganda). Once paperwork is sorted you can fly to Juba from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Khartoum, or you can be more adventurous and come overland.
Buses now run daily from Kampala direct to Juba, although security issues are still a cause for concern on this route. Once in Juba, be prepared to shell out some serious cash for a bed for the night. Most people stay in one of the tent camps along the banks of the Nile, but a bed in one of these costs around US$200-300 a night! Fortunately a couple of cheaper budget hotels charging around US$50-60 are starting to open up.

Juba and beyond

As well as taking in the independence celebrations, make time to visit some of Juba’s colourful markets and the grave of John Garang, the former leader of the South Sudan independence movement.
After July 9, if you’re not suffering from a post-party hangover, you could try pushing out into one of travel’s final frontiers – the South Sudan hinterland, but be warned, travel here is unbelievably tough and not at all safe. There’s almost no infrastructure, roads and public transport are basically non-existent, accommodation is a wishful dream and the security situation highly unstable. Only the most intrepid travellers need apply.
The most obvious route through South Sudan is to follow the Nile northward toward Kosti and the border of north Sudan. Currently no passenger ferries ply the Nile, but cargo boats do. However, with the journey taking around two to three weeks all foreigners tend to fly.

The future of tourism?

In years to come, the big attraction of South Sudan might well be the wildlife of the vast, and almost completely unknown, swampy region known as the Sudd. Scientists were left dumbfounded when, in 2007, they discovered that this forgotten wilderness contained herds of white-eared kob, Tiang antelope and Mongalla gazelle over a million strong. In addition it’s thought that around 8000 elephants call this area home as well as vast numbers of buffalo, ostrich, lion and other African classics. For the moment though, unless you happen to have a helicopter in your backpack, you’ll just have to dream about seeing this wildlife spectacle.
Visiting South Sudan will not be for everyone but for those after genuine adventure the 9th of July will be an unmissable day in the travel calendar.

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